One of the most frequent questions I hear in the shop when discussing various price levels of violins is, “what’s the difference between more and less expensive violins?”  Here’s an answer I composed to help the rest of our sales staff address this important question:

The primary reasons for the difference in cost in NEW violins (the name and repute of the maker, and the condition are the greatest factors for OLD violins) are time and material.

    1. All well-made instruments go through roughly the same steps of construction – wood selection, rough shaping, final graduation (the thickness of the plates), assembly, varnishing, and setup.       It is the time spent at each step of construction that adds cost to the violin. All things being equal, a more expensive new violin will have taken more time to build than a less expensive instrument.       The additional time spent allows the luthier to more carefully remove unnecessary wood (but not too much, compromising the structure) and to pay more attention to the craftsmanship of aspects like f-hole carving, purfling inlay, scroll carving, and general level of detail in the workmanship. The end result is a more beautiful, more finely crafted instrument that should please all of the senses. NOTE: removing unnecessary wood does not necessarily result in a lighter instrument…never associate lighter weight with “better” and heavier with “worse”. The weight of the wood itself and several other factors can affect the weight of the instrument.
    2. The quality of the material is another factor in the cost of an instrument. The quality of the wood itself (density, grain, beauty, resonance), the way it is cured (air, kiln, etc), and the length of time it is cured all play a role in the resulting quality of the tonewood.       Through the years many woods have been used with varying results, but the most common are maple for the back, ribs, neck and scroll and spruce for the top. Ebony is recognized as superior for the fingerboard but many other hardwoods (rosewood, boxwood) are suitable for fittings such as pegs, tailpieces, and chinrests. Age is often a positive factor in wood selection.       Old wood has gone through many seasonal cycles of expanding, contracting, heating, and cooling.       The wood possesses a stability that aids in the violin making process and results in a stable instrument that is less prone to cracking or “moving” with the seasons. The aged wood has been stored and treated for years and this costs money. When an instrument is made out of this exceptional wood the cost is passed on to the buyer. NOTE: the origin of the wood is not a conclusive indicator of its quality.       There is great wood and terrible wood from Europe and there is great wood and terrible wood from other parts of the world. This is especially true of the level of instruments we sell.